U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse on Thursday introduced comprehensive legislation that aims to help Western economies better recover from the pandemic while addressing long standing conservation, forest management and wildfire challenges on public lands.
The Boulder County Democrat’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act is a mouthful and a big ask.
His bill would direct more than $40 billion toward wildfire prevention, bolstering the conservation corps to restore public lands, funding deferred maintenance on U.S. Forest Service land and delivering coronavirus relief for the country’s outfitters and guides. It’s one of the most ambitious public lands bills in recent memory.
(Neguse sponsored the CORE Act, which protects 400,000 acres in Colorado and passed the U.S. House in October 2019. The measure is stalled in the Senate.)
“There are underlying structural issues that relate to our outdoor recreation economy and management of our public lands,” he said in an interview, adding that his bill also addresses critical economic and unemployment issues erupting from the pandemic shutdown. “This bill certainly seeks to address those challenges in an innovative way. It’s important in this moment to go big and be bold with a comprehensive approach that addresses the confluence of all these different issues coming to the surface.”
Here’s some highlights of his legislation:
$3.5 billion for the Forest Service’s hazardous fuels, fire-risk reduction program, which is funded at about $445 million a year, and $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management’s hazardous fuels program.$6 billion for the Forest Service’s capital improvements and maintenance program, which also is funded at about $445 million a year. The agency estimates it has a $5.2 billion backlog of maintenance on roads and other infrastructure. $600 million for state and private forests programs. $100 million for Forest Service personal protective equipment. $5.5 billion for the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program that focuses on water infrastructure development. $150 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife habitat conservation program for private lands.$4.5 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program that gives water efficiency grants to farmers and ranchers. $575 million for National Park Service programs. $6 billion for construction and maintenance at national parks. $9 billion for the Civilian Conservation Corps program to hire and train workers for public lands restoration while addressing unemployment during the pandemic. $2 billion for the National Coastal Resilience Fund to restore shorelines.$7 billion for direct payments to outfitters and guides enduring closures from COVID-19. Temporarily waives permit fees for ski areas operating on public land and waives fees paid by guides and outfitters. The legislation’s unveiling comes the day after the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act. The bipartisan-supported GAO Act would deliver the allotted $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund for improving outdoor recreation accession public lands and directs $9.5 billion over the next five years to deferred maintenance on public lands.